NYC can be a pain in the neck

I love working in the heart of NYC – midtown Manhattan – everything is stone’s throw away. When I leave in the evenings, one of the simple joys of my day is to look up and see what color the empire state building is.

Unfortunately last night as I gazed up, I felt a sharp pain in my neck! My usual cause of neck pain is long drives. But since I haven’t been driving anywhere, I really had to think about what the cause was. I tightened my scarf and made my way home for some self-care. Since I didn’t strain myself or get whiplash, I decided my neck pain was the result of the holiday stress. As things were becoming more and more hectic, the tension in my neck increased. Now that most of the stressors have been relieved, the remnants of the tightness in my muscles is more evident. Neck pain as well as many aches and pain often have more than just an obvious physical cause.

The relationship between emotional stress and physical pain is starting to become accepted by the western medical community in recent years. But I’m surprised it hasn’t been considered more seriously before. How often do we equate our emotions with actual things we feel in the body? “Feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.” “So nervous, I feel butterflies in my stomach.” “So scared I could throw up!”

There are many causes of neck pain. One often-overlooked cause is emotional factors that cause tension in the muscles that hold up our weary, heavy head. Of course pain can be from physical strain such as when we sit at our desks too long or spend too much time looking down at our phones. Another common cause of neck pain during the winter, which people are not familiar with, is wind-cold invasion. In Chinese medicine, it is important to keep the neck warm and covered, away from wind and direct breezes. There are points in the neck that are considered “open” and easily frozen, and letting cold air blow on them can cause the delicate muscles of the neck to spasm. That’s why I always suggest that patients do not sleep in front of open windows, in the direct line of air conditioning vents, and to always wear a scarf outdoors Fall through Spring. Wearing a scarf to keep the neck area warm also reduces the clenching/shrugging tendency that tightens the neck and upper traps, helping to reduce symptoms of jaw tightness and headaches in addition to reducing neck pain. Since everything is connected, neck pain and stiffness can lead to headaches and pain in the upper shoulders and then the rest of the back.

I love that acupuncture treats all types of neck pain and more importantly can address the root cause. If you’re experiencing pain, please schedule an appointment and in the meantime, please bundle up and wear a scarf!

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